Talking TV: NYABJ Celebrates Juneteenth
This month will mark the second year for the U.S.’s newest federal holiday, Juneteenth, and the New York Association of Black Journalists will be marking the event with a gala event on June 20.
Bonita Sostre, president of NYABJ and a coordinating producer at CBS News, says the event will highlight Black journalists’ achievements while honoring ABC News President Kim Godwin, among others.
In this Talking TV conversation, Sostre shares details of the event, discusses how local newsrooms can share unique stories about the new holiday and explains the work NYABJ is doing to cultivate young talent.
Episode transcript below, edited for clarity.
Michael Depp: Juneteenth, the United States’ newest federal holiday, is coming on June 18 and will be observed this year on June 20. The holiday celebrates the freedom of enslaved people at the end of the Civil War and has a long history of being observed prior to the federal holiday being enacted in 2021.
I’m Michael Depp, editor of TVNewsCheck, and this is Talking TV, the podcast that brings you smart conversations about the business of broadcasting. This week, a conversation about Juneteenth with Bonita Sostre, a coordinating producer with CBS News and the president of the New York Association of Black Journalists. We’ll talk about what NYABJ is doing to observe the holiday this year. The work it does to cultivate young journalists and efforts that news media can and should make to mark the new holiday and its significance for all Americans. We’ll be right back with that conversation.
Welcome, Bonita Sostre, to Talking TV.
Bonita Sostre: Hi. Thank you so much for having me.
Well, thanks for being here. Bonita, first off, we should mention that the New York Association of Black Journalists is going to be observing Juneteenth in a big way this year with a celebration dubbed “A Voyage Through Black Brilliance” on June 20 in New York. Tell us about that event.
Absolutely. So, this is going to be our first gala since the pandemic hit, we had them in the past. And we are super excited to be doing this one on June 20. We’re going to be honoring Kim Godwin of ABC News, Nate Burleson of CBS News in the podcast Still Processing that The New York Times obviously does. And we are just excited to bring together people. It’s a scholarship gala. We’re also raising money toward First Take, which is our program for high school students that we’ve had since 1988.
And I want to talk First Take in just a minute. So, if people want to get involved in this event, how can they get information or tickets?
Absolutely. We have an Eventbrite website that they can go to. They can buy tickets there. They can email the president at NYABJ.org. And we are happy to get them tickets.
So, tell us a little bit about the organization. The NYABJ is, of course, the New York chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists, which has over 4,100 members. You’ve got 1,200 members in your chapter alone. For those who don’t know the work of either or either organization, explain a little bit about what you do.
Absolutely. Our organization helps journalists throughout the New York City area. We work as a place of advocacy for those who may be having trouble within the workplace. Those who are looking for jobs, training, resumé assistance, that sort of thing.
We also have a high school program called First Take. And we do monthly panels. So, within those monthly panels, some of those are for fun things. During the pandemic, we did a wine tasting. We did a little bingo. We did some trivia. Currently this month in June, we’re going to be doing one on self-care. We did one for Women’s History Month, one on entertainment journalism.
So, it goes on and on. We also do in-person events, so we recently had a mixer with the NAHJ New York chapter, AAJA New York and the DEADLINE groups. It was all of us all together, lots of journalists in one room talking lots of news and just networking and having fun. So, our local chapter does that. The national chapter also does a lot of those same things. But on that national scale, as well as having the NABJ convention, that’s every year. This year it’s going to be in Las Vegas.
So happy to be in-person again finally, with in-person events, I’m sure. Let’s look a little bit closer at First Take. So, this is a free six-week program where high school journalists are involved. It’s a workshop. I think it’s sponsored or rather hosted by the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. And I understand that many graduates from the program have gone on to work at Nickelodeon, ABC and CNN. So, tell us a little bit about how the program works.
Absolutely. So, the program has been around since 1988, so a really long time. And as you mentioned, we’ve had some really great success stories. Another one is Aisha al-Muslim. She works at The Wall Street Journal, and she was just up for a Pulitzer for her work on Tulsa for that. So, we also had Cristina Pereda, who works over at the Capital B now, and she’s their lead reporter there. So, lots of people have gone through the program and a lot of them get back. They come back as volunteers. The program itself usually takes about 10 students who are interested in journalism, and we do field trips.
We do hands-on training. So, let’s say we have someone come and visit. They will take them to that street fair, have them go out, do some man-on-the-street interviews, come back in, discuss those interviews, put them together as a story and students love it. We’ve had such an amazing group of students over the years, and we’re thankful that this year we’re back in person. We’re starting on June 25th. So, we’re still taking student applications right now for our new class, and they’re also taking some volunteers.
But we’re excited that we already have The New York Times, Audacity and Bronx Snap, who have agreed to work with us so far. And there’s some other ones, The New Yorker as well, those folks are going to be volunteers for us for one week. And also, students are going to be able to learn from them. Students are usually so excited to do it.
It sounds like a great opportunity and competitive with 10 students only. So, what are the criteria for acceptance? Does one need to be a minority student to apply?
We accept all students. Anyone who’s interested in journalism, they can apply to it, and we’ll have that application available for them and we’re going through it. They just need to be interested in journalism and really show that interest in when they fill out the application.
Let me let me switch gears and ask you, from your vantage point, how is the news media doing, particularly TV news, with the recruitment and retention of young Black journalists right now? Where do you see and where else would you see work still needing to be done?
I think we’re doing a better job. I don’t work in HR personally, so I can’t speak to the specific numbers, but I’m seeing more faces, especially when I go to the conventions. I’m seeing so many media organizations there and they’re putting in that effort to at least show up and talk to journalists of color.
I know we’ve worked with The Wall Street Journal at NYABJ, they came they did a whole panel with us all about the jobs that they had available. They also took down email addresses so that they could be in touch with different people who participated. So, through organizations like NYABJ, we work with a number of different companies who will do panels with us because they want diverse talent. They’ll do partnerships with us or come to mixers to talk to that diverse talent. It is nice to see more diverse faces on TV and also behind the scenes.
And in this moment, do the DEI efforts underway feel different? Do they feel like they’re having more purchase, in effect, than they have in the past?
I can only speak to what I’m seeing, and it does seem that way. Just from talking to members, they do feel like they’re being seen. They’re being spoken to more and they’re having more opportunities. But that’s just hearsay. And we’re all journalists, so we want the facts. But just from hearing from members, that’s what I’m hearing.
Let’s flip back to Juneteenth itself as a topic. Many American households have observed this for years in some fashion, but for others, it’s entirely unfamiliar. So as news organizations, people watching this right now, still have a little bit of time to get some coverage together, what do you recommend, especially for local TV? How might those newsrooms help in sort of introducing this this event and bringing it into a broader awareness?
I think it’s all about the research. I know for CBS News, we’ve talked to Ms. Opal, who is the grandmother of the Juneteenth holiday. And also, in doing that research and in booking that segment, I found that there are parts of northern Mexico where some of the slaves went, and they also celebrate Juneteenth. So, it’s all these really interesting stories that you may not know are out there.
And it’s all about doing that research and seeing who’s been celebrating them. There are people here in the Northeast — I’m in New York — who may not have been aware of it, but they have friends who celebrated in different ways. So, it’s learning about all those different ways. In Atlanta, they do a big camp out. I believe Freedom, Ga., is doing a huge event. I’m sure you’re aware those are the 19 families that bought those 91 acres of land and they’re building their own community there now. So, there are so many celebrations that I would tell producers and journalists out there just like just start Googling and get on social media and see like what places are doing these events that we should be covering.
So, do a little homework and it’s well worth it. Well, Bonita, that’s all the time we have for today. I want to thank you for being here to discuss this Juneteenth gala that you’re having as well as the holiday itself. Remember, you can get tickets to the gala, gets more information at this address on your screen. Thanks very much for watching and see you next time.
Thank you so much.